Live. Die. Or become one of the Undead. News reports speak of mass panic and violence spreading across the globe. Negligent le...

Review || Planet of the Dead by Thomas S. Flowers

Or become one of the Undead.

News reports speak of mass panic and violence spreading across the globe. Negligent leaders hide behind misinformation. But in an age of paranoia and suspicion, who can say what is true anymore? Struggling to survive against a sweeping epidemic that has engulfed the planet, survivors will have to make hard choices in a world that no longer makes sense.


South Korea.
There it is again. Scratching in the walls. Harold sat up in the queen bed he shared with Silvio, his grey-haired miniature Schnauzer. He stared out into the darkness of his room, turning his head to the wall. What was that sound? Scratching…was it rats? Now it sounded like it was above him, that nails against wood kind of sound. But that didn’t make sense. He lived on the first floor of a two-story apartment building in one of the quieter neighborhoods in the Yongsan-gu area. Nothing ever happened here. While in the past, he’d had his share of crappy neighbors, Mrs. Kim was farthest from what one would consider to be a rowdy neighbor. Kim was a sweet little old lady with poorly dyed hair that gave her thinning white a touch of blue. She wore large red framed glasses and never made much of a sound, even during the day. The only complaint he would have would be the smell of kimchee that permeated through the walls whenever she cooked the awful stuff.
Still, the scratching persisted.
Silvio whimpered, turning his head upward at the sound, and then burying himself under the comforter.
Harold looked to his quivering dog and back to the ceiling. Now there was something else. Was that…moaning? Christ, what if Mrs. Kim fell and hurt herself. She could be dying up there. I should probably call someone, emergency services…anyone. But would they get here in time to help her? What if she’s really hurt? I need to do something.
He flung off his warm blanket and hopped out of bed. Harold slid on his slippers and went for the door. The hallway outside was empty, not very surprising considering most of the residents here at Yongsan-gu were nearing or past retirement. The very reason why he wanted to rent here was the quiet; nothing out of the ordinary ever happened here. A sudden cold breeze tickled his neck and arms. Pulling his robe closer to his chest, his skin breaking out in goosebumps, he quickly shuffled to the stairs.
Hoping Silvio would be okay on his own, Harold climbed the short steps to the second floor.
Silvio will be okay, he promised himself.
It’ll only be for a few minutes.
Mrs. Kim’s apartment was at the end, just above his own. Passing the door before hers he thought he’d heard the tenants arguing inside.
Odd, he thought, tempted to press his ear against their door. In all the years that Harold had lived here, he had never once heard or seen Fred and Marcy fight. Not once. They were the picture perfect boring couple, and the only other Americans living in the complex. Teachers, at some private school. Not that Harold would know much about that; he taught at the public institution, and had so for years now. As the saying goes, he was a professional bachelor and had little to nothing keeping him from wanting to return to the States. And besides, he liked it here. The culture, the food, the purposefulness, and the discipline of the students were far advanced from what he’d dealt with back in Kentucky.
Harold took a step and stopped, thought better of it, and continued to Mrs. Kim’s.
He knocked on the red door.
“Mrs. Kim, you in there?”
No answer.
“Is everything okay? I thought I heard— “
The door to Fred and Marcy’s apartment flung open.
Harold jumped back, pulling tighter on his robes.
Someone ran out. A blur. Down the hallway to the stairs. Turning back, he stared at Harold.
“Fred? What’s going on?”
Fred, who was normally tan with tidily kept clothes, looked disheveled and ghostly. He’d obviously been sweating, his hair ruffled and sticking up in areas. And on his clothes, there were red stains, dark red, covering most of his untucked shirt and pant legs. On his neck, an aggravated wound, crimson and purplish, oozing down and soaking into his collar.
“Fred, are you okay? Are you hurt?” Harold took a step forward.
Wide eyed, Fred turned and darted down the steps.
Harold watched, silent and unmoving.
He eyed the open door to their apartment.
No sounds came from within.
He glanced at Mrs. Kim’s door and then back to Fred and Marcy’s.
Swallowing hard, he moved toward the open door. With his slipper foot, he slowly nudged it open. The door creaked and stopped. No lights inside, just a dim glow coming from a lamp in the living room. Chairs were turned over, dishes smashed and broken on the floor in the kitchen.
“Hello?” he called. “Marcy? It’s me, Harold, from downstairs.”
“I don’t mean to intrude, but I saw Fred. He looks hurt. Is everything okay?” Harold stopped short of coming into the kitchen completely. He saw legs and feet sticking out around the corner, lifeless on the floor.
Harold gasped, covering his mouth with his cold trembling hand.
“Oh no,” he whispered.
He moved to the body. Marcy lay face down on the kitchen tile. Blood pooled underneath, staining her yellow polka dot dress, wet in a gamey orange.
“Marcy?” Harold called out. He bent down and reached to check for a pulse.
He jerked back.
Marcy stirred.
“Oh, God, you startled me. Marcy, are you alright?” Harold shuddered, his breath coming too fast, heart pounding against his chest.
Strangely, in odd twitching movements, Marcy got to her knees and turned.
“Oh no, Marcy…what…what happened? How can— “Harold wanted to scream, his breath and his heart pumping too hard to allow him. She ground chunks of pink flesh between red stained teeth… Fred’s flesh, he was sure.
Marcy groaned and lunged for him.
Harold moved back just in time.! He watched as Marcy fell face first onto the kitchen tile, inching away as she began moving again, crawling, reaching out with reddened fingers, clawing at his slippered feet.
“Marcy, what’s happened? What’s going?” he begged, again taking another step back out into the living room, back towards the open apartment door.
Marcy groaned, annoyed and hungry, still in pursuit, still crawling.
Unable to watch anymore, wanting nothing more than to run back downstairs to his own apartment, to lock and deadbolt the door, to hug close Silvio, his miniature Schnauzer, wanting nothing more than to be somewhere else, somewhere not here with this bloodied crazed woman who was no longer the Marcy he thought he knew.
She’s drunk…
Or on drugs, has to be.
She’s not herself.
Harold turned and started for the open door.
He yelped.
Mrs. Kim stood in the entryway. Her bluish white hair ruffled and torn. Red swollen teeth-like wounds on her arms. And her eyes, a creamy yellow white, but not a sunny yellow, rather much more like decay that reminded him of rotting things eking some measure of existence at the bottom of dumpsters. She shuffled toward him, quickly grabbing on his robe and pulling herself to him.
Harold slapped at her. Hard.
But her hold was strong, manically strong.
“Stop, Mrs. Kim, please— “
She angled down and bit his exposed wrist. Blood pooled around her lips as she gnawed and suckled, grunting with a sort of pleasurable ecstasy.
Harold screamed and fought to dislodge her, but he could not remove her bite.
Nails scraped his shins.
He glared down.
Marcy was clawing at his legs, nipping at his flesh.
He kicked away, but she held fast. With a quick sneer, she bit into his calf.
Harold shrieked, toppling over the couch. He rolled and hit the floor on the other side hard, knocking his head against the coffee table. Dazed, he lay there, unsure if what was happening was even real. Maybe he was still in his own apartment, fast asleep with Silvio by his side.
Shuffling over, moaning deeply, Mrs. Kim reappeared, her lips wet and scarlet, dribbling down onto her white ruffle blouse.
He watched, frozen, his body refusing to move.
“Please…stop…don’t— “he begged.
Another moaning, gurgling above him.
Harold angled and watched as Marcy crawled towards him from the other side of the couch. As if driven by the smell of his wounds, she quickened her pace, scraping along the floor. Reaching his face, she thrust her sneering teeth clamping down on his cheek, ripping, shredding loose flesh and tissue and fat, pulling back to enjoy the chunky red and purplish glob.
Harold squirmed and squealed.
He stared in horror as Mrs. Kim kneeled beside him, reaching with greedy claws for his now exposed belly. She tore into his flesh, bleeding him, reaching, wiggling her fingers deep inside.
Harold lost his voice, whimpering and gnashing his gums as he watched in disbelief, watched as Mrs. Kim ripped out a rubbery looking hose like noddle what he could only assume to be part of his intestines. Dripping wet, she suckled and chewed hastily and dug some more.
What about Silvio, he wondered, shuddering at the molten touch of Mrs. Kim digging farther into him, pulling out more of his stomach, licking, eating him alive.

My dog, what’ll happen to my Silvio…

The zombie genre is actually one of my favorites. I love all the different ways that it can play out. I know you are thinking, "Really, Valerie? Zombies eat people. They are all the same." Ah, but they are not. They can be mindless, shuffling creatures, or fast, with a herd mentality. The virus can cause immediate reanimation upon death, or be a wasting sickness.

In Planet of the Dead, the author chose Door Number Two. The zombies are created from a super flu type virus. People get sick and then they turn. The zombies are powerful and strong, but not the smartest. (They don't use doorknobs, for example, choosing instead to break down the door.) The virus is spread via bites and scratches, so even if you aren't bitten, you might still not be in the clear.

There's no big buildup or world building before the outbreak as it's really not needed. The excerpt above is the very first chapter. I'll start this off with a spoiler, because of that excerpt... wow, right? I try very hard to not give spoilers but here it is: the dog doesn't get eaten by zombies. I was worried, weren't you? Nevermind the fact that the poor guy is seeing his guts get pulled out. As long as the dog makes it, I'll keep reading.

Planet of the Dead makes for a page-turner. While there's no lack of action or gore, there's still some time spent on character building. We experience the dawn of the zombie apocalypse through the eyes of multiple characters whose paths cross along the way. If you don't particularly care for a certain character, just wait, because you'll move on to another quickly. You still get a great feel for the pre-zom life of the character enough to care whether they bite it or not. (Pun unintended but you can't deny that it fits.) 

The only thing that kept this from being a top-notch zombie story for me was the ending. It just felt like it belonged to another book entirely. Still, if you are looking for a zombie tale that includes plenty of suspenseful, bloody terror, Planet of Dead will give you bite for your buck.